January 28, 2016

What are the Critical Legal Documents every person should have?

No matter your age, there are critical legal documents that you should have in place. These documents are a Will, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and a Living Will. Each state has unique laws that govern the drafting, execution, and administration of these documents.

Your Will

Did you know if you die without a will, the State will decide to whom your assets are distributed, and if you have minor children, to whom the guardianship of your children will be granted?

The provisions of your will determine how your personal property, and all assets that do not have a designated beneficiary, and thus, do not pass by ‘operation of law’, will pass. If you do not have a will, and die ‘intestate’, each state has laws that govern who the beneficiaries of your estate will be. Even if you think that you have taken measures to designate beneficiaries of all of your assets, or if you think you don’t have enough assets to warrant making a will, it is still important to have one, because if you die intestate, an Administrator will be appointed by the court, initiating a lengthy, costly, and unnecessary legal proceeding.

Lastly, and most importantly, if you have minor children it is imperative that you have a will! Only through a will can you legally designate a guardian of your choice to care for your children.

Your Power of Attorney

Did you know that if you become unable to handle your finances, unless you as the ‘Grantor’ designate a Power of Attorney (also called an ‘agent’ or ‘attorney in fact’), your loved ones or a state agency, will have to initiate a lengthy, costly, and unnecessary legal proceeding called a Guardianship?

A Power of Attorney enables you to designate an agent (or co-agents), to handle your finances should you be unable to do so yourself. You can specify what financial transactions they are authorized to handle and whether they need to work together or can work independently to carry out their duty. You should take care to appoint someone you trust, but bear in mind, whomever you appoint will be your fiduciary and is legally bound to act in your best financial interest.

Lastly, a Power of Attorney can be ‘durable’ or ‘springing’. The Durable Power of Attorney authorizes the appointed agent to act as soon as the document is signed and notarized. The Springing Power of Attorney requires a court proceeding along with medical evidence that the Grantor lacks capacity and needs an agent to handle his/her finances.

Your Health Care Proxy

Did you know that if you don’t have a Health Care Proxy, and you become unable to make health care decisions for yourself, loved ones or a state agency will have to initiate a Guardianship proceeding?

The Health Care Proxy is a legal document that designates an ‘agent’ to make decisions about your healthcare should you be unable to do so. Once you determine who you want your Health Care Proxy to be, you should ask if they are willing, and if so, have an important conversation about your health care and end of life wishes. You should make sure that your doctors have copies of the Health Care Proxy, and that you have a copy available should you become hospitalized.

Your Living Will

The Living Will is the document where you can explain in writing what your health care and end of life wishes are. The Living Will should be given to your Health Care Proxy and provides guidelines for him/her to follow. The Living Will may or may not include a DNR (a Do Not Resuscitate) provision. Even if your Living Will includes a DNR, you should execute a separate one and provide it to your doctors as well as post it prominently in your home (perhaps on the refrigerator) in the event you are taken by ambulance to the hospital. Some people also choose to keep their DNR on their person, perhaps in their wallet, to try to ensure if they are taken to the emergency room when they are away from home, their wishes are adhered to.  Compass Care’s 7 Choices document is sample form of Advanced Directives that frames many key decisions in a more colloquial, less intimidating manner.  You can download this document by clicking here: Compass Care’s 7 Choices VER1.3 (5-23-2016).

As you can see, all of these legal documents are essential for all adults, no matter your age, so you can best maintain control over your estate, your finances, your health care, and your end of life wishes should you be unable to communicate them yourself